WASHINGTON – Freed by a recent legal deal with government lawyers, major technology firms released new data Monday on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information for secret national security investigations – figures that show that the government collected data on thousands of Americans.
The publications disclosed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr provided expanded details and some vented criticism about the government’s handling of customers’ Internet data in counter-terrorism and other intelligence-related probes.
The figures from 2012 and 2013 showed that companies, such as Google and Microsoft, were compelled by the government to provide information on as many as 10,000 customer accounts in a six-month period. Yahoo complied with government requests for information on more than 40,000 accounts in the same period.
The companies earlier provided limited information about government requests for data, but a new agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed the firms to provide a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to the public.
Seeking to reassure customers and business partners alarmed by revelations about the government’s massive collection of Internet and computer data, the firms stressed details indicating that only small numbers of their customers were targeted by authorities.
Still, even those small numbers showed that thousands of Americans were affected by the government requests approved by judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The new figures were released just a week after major tech firms announced a legal agreement with the Justice Department. But lawyers and executive for the companies openly vented their discomfort with the government’s continuing insistence that they could only provide broad ranges instead of the actual numbers of government requests.
Google and all the other companies denied that they gave any government unfettered access to their users’ info. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Web surfing could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.
The companies can only reveal how many total requests they receive every six months, with the numbers in groupings of 1,000. And even those general numbers must be concealed for at least six months after any reporting period ends. That restriction means the FISA requests for the final half of last year can’t be shared until July, at the earliest.
The requested content could have included emails, instant messages, address books, calendar items and pictures.
All the companies also received FISA requests that weren’t aimed at scooping up online communications or photos. Those demands sought things such as billing information and locations of where people made an Internet connection.